Teamwork restores Potomac River shorelines

Volunteers plant trees in an effort to stabilize shoreline along the Potomac River at Naval Support Facility Indian Head.
Volunteers plant trees in an effort to stabilize shoreline along the Potomac River at Naval Support Facility Indian Head. (Gary Wagner/u.s. Navy)
By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Environmental groups, the military and government organizations have teamed to restore several parcels of shoreline in an effort to return the Potomac River to its natural state.

The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Navy, among other groups, restored several parcels of shoreline last month.

During a recent celebration of a $1.1 million shoreline restoration at Piscataway Park, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) highlighted achievements made along the Potomac, including upgrades to storm- and wastewater facilities and stopping harmful runoff.

"The Potomac is the victim of a lot of human irresponsibility," said Hoyer, who noted that the projects help reverse those problems and also teach future generations how to be better stewards of the river. The Potomac "is still not where it needs to be, and we have a long way to go," he said.

The Alice Ferguson Foundation received federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds from NOAA to restore 2,800 feet of shoreline in Piscataway Park, directly across the Potomac from Mount Vernon.

The foundation donated the park to the National Park Service in 1968, but the group still uses parts of it for educational purposes.

"All the players in the entire watershed are really starting to work together," National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said at the event.

The new living shoreline stops erosion and promotes spawning and nursery habitat for fish along the shores of the Park Service's Native American archaeological site. It also protects about 30 acres of freshwater wetlands. It mimics natural shoreline processes so that animals and plants have a chance of "not just surviving, but contributing," Jarvis said.

Nearly 10,000 tons of stone were used as a breakwater, or structural support to the eroding shoreline. Then areas behind the stone and openings in the stone wall were filled with soil, sea grasses and other plantings. During high tide, about two acres of the shoreline gets flooded, providing habitat, said Richard L. Takacs, NOAA habitat restoration coordinator.

A similar riparian shoreline is being reconstructed at Naval Support Facility Indian Head, said Gary Wagner, a spokesman for the facility, which is on 17 miles of Potomac River and Mattawoman Creek shoreline.

Structures and roads were being lost to shoreline erosion at a rate of 1 1/2 feet per year, he said. To stop it, the Navy worked with state and local groups to develop a four-phase plan to restore six miles of shore, at an estimated cost of $20 million, Wagner said.

The first phase of the Navy project created 11 acres of intertidal area, including wetlands and flood plains, he said. It required grading steep cliffs and constructing drainage systems to protect bluffs from storm-water erosion.

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